Liver Cancer Overview
Liver Cancer (hepatic cancer) is a life-threatening form of cancer that starts in liver cells. The liver is an organ about the size of a football positioned in the upper-right part of the abdomen above the stomach and beneath the diaphragm. Out of the several types of liver Cancer, Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common followed by hepatoblastoma, and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, which is rare.
Only cancer that originates by the formation of abnormal mutated cells in the liver’s call liver cancer. Other types of cancer that originate in other organs including the breast, lung, colon, and skin that spreads to the liver are considered metastatic forms of cancer instead of liver cancer. These other cancers can metastasize (spread) to the liver are more common than the type that starts in liver cells.
Who Gets Liver Cancer?
Like all cancers, there certain high-risk factors that make some individuals more susceptible to developing the condition than those without a risk factor. These include individuals suffering from chronic infections involving hepatitis B virus or hepatitis the virus, those with cirrhosis of the liver. The most common risk factors associated with liver Cancer include:
- Gender – Males are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma compared to females. This is likely due to behaviors that affect the risk factors. That said, women tend to develop fibrolamellar – a subtype of hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Ethnicity – In America, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans have the highest risk of developing liver Cancer, followed by Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, African-Americans, and finally Caucasians in that order.
- Chronic Viral Hepatitis – individual suffering from long-term (chronic) infections involving HBV (hepatitis B virus) and HCV (hepatitis C virus) have a higher risk of the developing liver Cancer compared to those who had hepatitis B or C. Serious infections involving both these forms of hepatitis can cause cirrhosis of the liver which can lead to the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatitis C is far more common in America, whereas hepatitis B is more common in Asia and other developing countries. The risk of developing the disease is even higher if the individual is a heavy drinker, consuming six standard drinks every day.
- Cirrhosis – This disease can develop when normal cells in the liver become damaged and repay/prepared with scar tissue. Most individuals who have developed cancer already suffer from some form of cirrhosis, whether it has been diagnosed or not.
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease – People who consume no amounts or insignificant amounts of alcohol can develop nonalcoholic fatty liver cancer, especially obese individuals. This form of the disease is often called NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) that can progress into cirrhosis.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis – Cirrhosis can develop when the liver is affected by some forms of autoimmune diseases. One disease, referred to as PBC (primary biliary cirrhosis), is caused when the liver bile ducts are damaged or destroyed. An individual suffering from PBC is often at an elevated risk of developing liver cancer.
- Inherited Metabolic Disease – Individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis or other inherited metabolic disease tend to absorb iron at a elevated rate from food. The iron can settle in the body tissue including in the liver and if built up at elevated levels can cause liver cancer And Cirrhosis.
- Heavy Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol abuse remains the leading cause of cirrhosis cases in America. These individuals often develop liver cancer soon afterward.
- Obesity – Being very overweight or obese can increase the potential risk of developing life-threatening liver Cancer. This is thought to be the result of cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
- Type II Diabetes – In recent decades, researchers have linked the increased risk of developing liver cancer and type II diabetes. This is likely the result of the individual having other risk factors including chronic hepatitis or heavy alcohol consumption. The increased potential risk might also be the result of diabetic patients being obese or overweight which then leads to liver problems.
- Specific Rare Diseases – There are known rare diseases that increased the potential risk of developing liver cancer including Wilson’s disease, Glycogen storage diseases, porphyria cutanea tarda, alpha-1-anti-tripin deficiency and tyrosinemia.
- Anabolic Steroids – Male anabolic steroids are often used and abused by athletes to increase muscle mass and strength. However, long-term use of anabolic steroids as a potential of slightly increasing the risk of developing hepatocellular cancer. Alternatively, cortisone-like steroids do not have the same risks, including prednisone, dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone.
- Arsenic Exposure – Consuming water that has been contaminated with arsenic in its natural form, including from some wells, for an extended time can increase the potential risk of developing some forms of liver cancer. This is a significant problem in many portions of East Asia and less of a concern in America.
- Parasitic Infection – Infections caused by parasites is known to result in schistosomiasis that can lead to liver damage and eventually liver cancer. Many of the parasites that cause life-threatening diseases are found in locations outside the United States including in South America, Africa, and Asia.
- Using Tobacco Products – Smoking tobacco product can significantly increase the risk of developing liver cancer. Both current smokers and former smokers are at risk. However, the former smokers are less risk for developing the disease.
Some individuals who develop the disease are unaware they have liver cancer until it develops into an advanced stage. The most common liver cancer symptoms include:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or nausea
- The sensation of being full after consuming a small meal
- Swollen abdomen from buildup of fluid
- Enlarged spleen diagnosed as a mass developing on the left side under the ribs
- Enlarged liver diagnosed as a mass developing on the right side under the ribs
- Jaundice for the eyes and skin become yellow in color
Less common symptoms associated with Liver Cancer include enlarged belly veins, fever, abnormal bleeding or bruising in the sense of feeling worse than normal when cirrhosis is involved.
Diagnosing Liver Cancer
There is not one single test to diagnose Liver Cancer. Because of that, the doctor will attempt to identify as many symptoms and signs of the disease as possible through various procedures and tests that include:
- Medical History – Through medical history, the doctor will attain personal and family history of known risk factors and then asked about common symptoms associated with the condition.
- Physical Examination – As a part of the exam, the doctor will pay special attention to the whites of the eyes and noticeable yellowing of the skin that might indicate jaundice, along with an enlarged mass on either the right or left side of the rib cage.
- Imaging Tests – The doctor will likely use MRIs scans, CT scans, and X-ray technology to identify suspicious areas that might be affected by Cancer or a possible recurrence of the disease.
Treating Liver Cancer
The form of treatment a patient will undergo for their liver cancer will depend on the stage (progression) of the disease along with other factors including personal preferences, overall health conditions, and age. The doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tumor or liver transplant surgery. Other treatments could include heating cell cancers, freezing cell cancers, injecting chemotherapy medications and using targeted drug therapy.